Monday, April 12, 2021

13 April 2021, long-absent hope in Lebanon

Today 13 April 2021 comes back in a landscape of despair. Lebanon is a failed state, an occupied country, a country where the fabric of society is torn. The banking sector that sustained the country during the direst moments of the civil war has been finally brought down. The youth of the country never experienced the rule of law. The media is just spouting clichés. 
I am sad to realize that it is our generation who is responsible for the demise. NOTHING is worth engaging in a civil war.
My optimism has been defeated, but I cannot give up. Lebanon is a part of me.

In 2005 I wrote published an article in The Daily Star.
Today, 13 April 2019 my hope has been defeated.
13 April 1975 was the start of the 15 years Lebanese Civil War, but then I can say that Lebanese civil war ended in 1978 and then started the era of Syrian intervention and then domination that ended in 2005 with the 14th of March event. But 2006 was the start of a new civil war without continuous military action, but as destructive for the fabric of society.
Today Lebanon is tired and hope for change is dwindling.
With those who lived Lebanon of before the war entering maturity and old age, it is clear that the new war generation are culturally very far from the Lebanese of before 1975.

Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Long-absent hope returns to Lebanon

By Khatoun Haidar
Special to The Daily Star

April 13, 1975, is a date that represents, for most of us Lebanese who are above 45 years of age, a frontier separating the often idealized Lebanon of before the war, and the insufferable reality of after April 13. For the youth of Lebanon, April 13 is just a controversial historical date. For them there is no dividing line; they grew up in a Lebanon ravaged by war, still suffering the sequels of occupation and a deep sectarian partition. A country where ambition is curbed and hope scarce
This would have been a perfect introductory paragraph to a piece commemorating April 13, if I was asked to write it before February 14. Today I cannot ignore the change, the atmosphere of revival, and the fact that more than half of the Lebanese population, waving the flag, took to the streets in two peaceful demonstrations. I cannot ignore the loud voice of the silent majority, and the strong participation of women and the youth. I cannot disregard the sight of two women standing side by side at Hariri's last resting place, one reading the Muslim prayer and the other performing the sign of the cross. I cannot neglect the reaction of defiance and the stress on national unity that followed four criminal explosions that targeted Christian areas. One has often dreamed of renewal, but never dared to imagine one. Today it is possible, the Lebanese people just need to reach for it, and then maybe April 13, 2005 will be a new frontier, that of the rebirth of Lebanon.
I am sure that many dismiss these signs as emotional reactions, and insist that the situation is much more complex than the popular mood. This is true in some way, yet it is not pure naivete to observe the manifestations of discontent and to measure the pulse of the population. Regimes that dismiss the well-being of their population by imposing an iron-handed approach to governing do so at their own risk. In fact, the mood of the Lebanese before and after the Hariri assassination takes root in the political developments that followed the Taif Agreement.
The Lebanese civil war that started on April 13, 1975 was officially ended on October 22, 1989, by the Arab League, sponsoring the Taif Agreement. By then, the Lebanese were weary and tired from a series of armed conflicts that at first took root in deep internal divisions but then became regional in nature. The end of the armed conflict did not bring the civil war to a real conclusion. There was no national reconciliation effort on the popular level, and Israel maintained its occupation of South Lebanon, which made the Syrian presence in Lebanon a de facto reality that nobody could contest without seeming to side with the enemy. Given this reality it would have been naive to expect the emergence of an independent democratic Lebanon.
In theory, Taif restored to Lebanon its Constitution, that guarantees freedoms and democracy. But under the pretext of national security necessities the country was ruled for the last 15 years by a false, imposed national consensus that destroyed accountability, the prime basis of democracy. The choices of ministers became a reflection of sectarian power centers and foreign intervention, resulting at all political junctions in deadlock. The parliamentary institution lost its meaning when deputies started falling in line when it came to the ministerial vote of confidence or presidential elections, whatever their previously declared positions. People felt powerless and many gave up on the electoral system.
Then in the year 2000, the South was liberated from Israeli occupation, and there was hope in the air, but soon it became clear that the status quo was here to stay, and that the country was sinking deeper under Syrian control. The signs of an organized effort to erode the few remaining liberties became more pronounced. This demise of democracy was exacerbated by a deep feeling of isolation as the international community showed a total lack of concern. The sense of hopelessness became stronger and young people had only one dream: leave the country.
Buried under this hopelessness was anger. The anger exploded when Hariri was assassinated. People took peacefully to the streets, the prime minister resigned, and the international community started paying attention. Out of it came a feeling of empowerment and hope.
For me this hope is embodied in the commune-like freedom tents in the middle of Beirut. There you find hundreds of youth of all religious sects that have been living there since the Hariri assassination. They organize daily activities under strict rules of behavior and you often find students from opposing parties communicating, building a basis for national reconciliation. School children visit and try to understand. The hope is that this generation, whatever happens, will never forget this experience.

Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Are the Lebanese mislead as to corona-virus situation?

30 March 2021
One year later, nothing changed. 

Today I heard a representative of the Parliamentary commission for Covid-19 say that the decrease in death rate is due to vaccination.
Get real! 
Less than 1% of the Lebanese population has been vaccinated. In the US more than 20% of the population has been vaccinated and Fauci will not dare to make such a declaration.
At a rate of more than 15% rate of infection in persons tested, and knowing that testing is not free and the percentages low, maybe the logical conclusion is that herd immunity is starting to hold because of the very high number of infections.
Anectodical evidence is that I rarely talk to anybody in Lebanon who does not inform me of at least 10 persons he knows that caught coronavirus. A friend of mine whose sister suffered a stroke and was hospitalized caught the virus in the hospital, her sister who was 'taking care of her' caught the virus too. The two nurses who took care of her at home after she was released from hospital caught coronavirus too!
Another friends informed that both her father caught the virus in hospital, her mother was infected, and both died in hospital.
An aunt informed me that her hairdresser gave coronavirus to all those who visited him. Nobody contacted her or asked her to be tested.
I could go on for pages and pages of stories about people catching the virus in Lebanon.

Today too I heard from another person from the ministry of health saying that the news about safety of AstraZenica will boost the vaccination rate as people will be less reluctant!!! Really?  
It is as if people are being offered the vaccine and refusing it. There is a lack of supplies and it is badly distributed. A fact that the anchor person interviewing him did not bother to mention.

Update 30 July
On Rathausplatz | Opera and Ballet Are Still Larger Than Life
Coming across this post from Vienna I wondered if we may dream and hope. Notice that these events are free. Notice that ''At the gate, we were asked to fill out a form – name, email and phone number – so they could track us if necessary. '' This is how proper measures are taken and not like Lebanon Cabinet just total lock-down and then open everything without real planning!
Update 24 July 2020
The latest figures show a rapid increase in infection rates with a total of 3,407 cases and took the death toll to 46 people.
Health Minister Hamad Hasan warned Thursday that Lebanon was at a “dangerous turning point” with the spread of coronavirus, adding that the country was now facing a community outbreak, "which is a negative and discouraging indicator.”

The media and official sources always stress in their reporting on the opening of the airport, yet the recent surge in cases has largely been detected among the local population.
Of the new infections, 119 were found among the local population and 28 among travelers arriving from abroad, the Health Ministry reported.
Lebanon has seen a surge in cases since the country’s only international airport reopened almost one month ago. Beirut's airport reopened to tourists July 1.
Nobody is informing the citizens that without proper testing, tracking, and tracing no sane person can say that the curve was flattened. 
The government and the media did not stop clamoring of the Lebanese success in the fight against Covid-19.
With inflated ego the word was ''we are doing better than Europe''
The Government proceeded opening the economy without proper social distancing and other preventive measures. They did it without staging and with no proper testing and tracing.
The citizens went to full normal mode without considering that the 'new normal' is what is needed.
The result, a critical situation where the health system might not be enough.

So I say it again; the Lebanese are mislead about the situation, by their government and by the media who does not take the time to do some research and prefers the ease to informing people in bites and clichés.

The below part was published 4 May 2020
Yes they are!

Figures reveal that what we think we know about the Covid-19 numbers and death toll in Lebanon is wrong. Here’s why.
Only about 10,000.- tests were carried out. This is quite low for a population of 4 million if we compare to more than 100,000.- in a country of 8 million like Austria.
So the total number of about 600 cases is not representative of the situation in the country.

In addition testing is not available in all regions, for example, the low rate of confirmed cases in Tripoli / Akkar as well as Baalbeck / Hermel is because almost nobody was tested.
The refugee community of about one million is not tested or included in the confirmed cases toll.

All over the world one fifth of those tested are positive, meaning that if 100,000 tests were carried out in Lebanon the number of cases would be 5,000.- instead of the 500 reported today.

Many deaths of old people in villages are not reported as corona-virus related, old people regularly die in winter, don't they?
These people don't go to hospitals or see doctors because they cannot afford it. They just dies at home. So the death rate is also flawed and unrepresentative.

If death rate in Italy jumped to 25% due to the failure of the health system in comparison with 0.3% in Korea and below 2% in Germany, what do you think the situation will be in Lebanon when the infection rate reaches it's peak?

I think that the Lebanese in the Gulf countries and France would reconsider ask for repatriation if they were aware of these numbers. Maybe those in African countries that suffer from insufficient medical facilities would want to come back but why to leave Gulf countries or European countries where health systems are better than in Lebanon, and where, if you are a resident, you can benefit from unemployment packages?

Anyway, the media is failing to ask these questions and are just praising the governmental measures to fight corona-virus. And mostly today praising the governmental measure for repatriation as if it was a feat, while all other countries do it without the hoopla!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Is sectarianism part of the Lebanese psyche?

 Just heard on what is labelled in Lebanon a 'Christian radio' an interview with the head of what is also labelled 'Christian TV'. Why Christina media? Because these two mediums are funded or affiliated to what is called 'Christian political parties'. Allready weird in itself to have Chritian radios or TVs or parties. Not to say that the audience of the leading radio and TV station I am talking about belongs to all Lebanese 19 sects.

Anyway, I was interested to hear the interview in the hope of getting some inside information. You can imagine my astonishement when I hear the head of a TV station that I follow say:

We have to be honest and say that Christians in Lebanon have a different lifestyle from Muslims. 

And here he did not mean drinking alcohol. Noting that most Lebanese Muslims drink alcohol. He specified by style of life as ease of living and education. In short he meant Christians are more occidentalised, more cultured, more well off... in comparison with the barbarian Muslims.

I would have been angry to hear such nonesense if I had not found it a bit funny. What can I say, I was drawn into the ridiculous of hearing a TV director say aloud what bigoted Lebanese Christians say. A nonety in fact. Lebanon is divided along very clear and strict social classes rules. And each class in fact groups all sects equally. The only difference is that poor Christians dream and are delusional about belonging to the upper class.

It reminded me of something that I experienced in 1970 and that I found at this time funny and outdated.

I had a friend, a Maronite whose family comes from Gemayze. His parents were insisting that he accompanies them to visit his grandmother. He asked me to come with him, like that we could go after it to Hamrah for a movie and dinner. His grandmother thought I was his girlfriend. In her mind, I should have been. I think she found me nice, I have to say, I was cute not to say beautiful. After a short conversation, she liked me even more. I spoke perfect French and was cultured, quite upper class in her view, am sure. She asked me if I was Maronite or Othodox, given that my friend's mother was Orthodox. I answered her that I was Muslim Shiite. If you could see her face! It was quite comic.

She then asked me from where. When I told her who I was. Meaning that my grandfather a vey prominent political figure from a feodale family, a Lebanese aristocrat. She regained her smile that her smile became bigger and she said that 'you are not like the others, you are superior'

Can you imagine! We left her house laughing and laughing, talking about his grandmother being a dinosaur.

Seems, that modern Lebanese are dinosaurs. All the gains of the fifties, sixties, and seventies were lost in the civil war if the director of a leading TV stations utter the words I heard and that are a mirror image of the 'petite bourgeoise' that I met decades ago.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

How Stark Trek gave me an insight into the Trump phenomenon

 Lockdown and self isolation drove me to spend my weekends and much of my evening streaming movies and series. A new experience for me as I was previously a reader and rarely relied on video production for entertainment. Being an aficionado of science fiction, it was normal to turn to Star Trek. First Deep Space 9 then Voyager, then Next Generation, and lately The original series.

It was really nice to look back on what was in the end of the 1960s their predictions for the future starting the 1990s and beyond. They got somethings right but could not imagine computer with voice like Alexa. Their computers had mechanical voices. The computers, though with lots of functions prediction had switches and blinking lights. They could not imagine touch screens or let's say the science for it was not yet possible. Yet what hit me most was the social aspect, the culture, the customs.

In the original series, though they made their best to be diverse and gender conscious, the series is full of gender stereotyping and racism. Racism in the sense of a clear boasting about the superiority of the human race, it's ingenuity and cultural ethics. Almost reaching bigotry. They tried their best not to be, but could not eradicate the culture of the era. New life forms were frightening and the first reaction was to draw your phaser. The prime directive was casually applied but demonstrated that 'our way' was better. The captain, though talking compassion and understanding was a macho man who in most episodes entered into hand to hand combat and won. The strong man, The lady's man, The superior culture, 'Our culture against theirs' characterize the original series. 

Not to say that I did not enjoy the original series, it is refreshing to go back to a 'black and white' of the world. 

Then as you go from series to series until Discovery, aside from the technological side, society clearly changes, and they become overall more 'politically correct' as we call it today. Often alien races have more advanced cultures. The captains are no more stereotyped as strong leaders, rather their strength is in their ethics and intelligence. Women are in real leadership positions. There is consideration for personal freedom of choices and self determination rights of all sentient beings, even rights for AI in the form of androids or holographic characters. It is another world, another society, another social order.

This is the evolution of Star Trek and many assume that it mirrors the development of our societies. But is it true? Maybe part of the society, but not all of it. The extreme right and what is called Trump base is much closer to the society depicted in the original series. Same applies to Brexiteers, National socialism in Europe, Marie le Pen, and other movements that consider themselves preservers of a culture that is pure, and purely engrained in the original Star Trek.

It is not a value judgement, just an observation. 

But it is an observation that made me wonder and ponder on what the future holds and if there is a way to bridge the divide to make society whole again.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

How covid-19 changed me

Today, I realised that self isolation, lockdown, living in the shadow of Covid-19 news have taken their toll on my psyche and to a certain extent my sanity.

Since February 20120 I passed through various stages of ups and downs, anger, apathy, and almost depression. Yet I thought that I was doing well. 

I even adapted to a sedentary life after spending the last decade living a nomadic life. From airport to airport, to train, to hotel, rarely sleeping in the same bed for more than a maximum of 10 days.

I studied the virus, how it worked and tried to protect myself without exaggeration.

Not easy to be alone for so long, and I mean without real human contact. True, everyday I meet many people virtually, my days are full, even overworked. 

True I adapted to home office, kept a certain discipline of a work routine. I wake up early, get dressed, take my breakfast, and then go to my desk office. I take a lunch break, and an afternoon walk. I mean the usual everyday life. But, and here is the but, my weekends are drowned in solitude. No outings with friends, no hugs. And I like to show my emotions by touching :)

Anyway, I will not bore you with details that I am sure all of you experienced in the last year; a seesaw of lockdowns, travel restrictions, quarantines, and self isolation.

This Saturday, the daughter of a friend of mine contacted me to say that she is in the same city, she would like to meet, immediately telling me that she will take a rapid antigen test before coming. I immediately told her to come for lunch at the appartement. It was the first time I received anybody since the whole saga started. Told myself that as she was going to take a rapid antigen test before coming I could relax a bit.

It was nice to cook for somebody, arrange a nice dining table, and all the niceties of receiving a person for lunch. The young woman was very pleasant and we enjoyed our time, she stayed quite late and seemed reluctant to leave. I enjoyed her presence.

And this when it hit me that I changed. During all her stay there was like a small lingering sound in my mind telling me, what if she is infected. During her stay I kept the window in the kitchen/dining room open. But after she left I opened all the windows in the house. It was freezing, but I could not close the windows and there were windmills in my brain about Covid-19, infections, and why I do this.

It ruined it a bit for me. 

I definitely need rehabilitation whenever this crisis gets resolved. And I wonder if I ever will be back to my old self. 

I am afraid of the fact that I feel my new lifestyle is totally natural. I am afraid that I am getting used to it. I am afraid of a change that is startling and not welcomed. I liked my old self.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Counting my blessings

 Today is 01.01.2021.

Yesterday night, awaiting 2021, I thought of how much 2020 has been described as an 'annus horribilis'  and how much we dreaded that the saga continues in 2021.

It is true that around the world 2020 has been a tough ride. Covid-19 changes our way of life. How we work, how we socialize, how we interact;, how we shop, and so much more; so many died before their time, children were separated from their friends without knowing why, people lost their jobs and in countries where there is no social net, people went hungry.

But yesterday, while awaiting for the end of 2020, I wondered if I was wrong in not counting my blessings.

I was not infected by the virus, and I did not lose any of my close family to the virus. A blessing.

I became the grandmother of a beautiful healthy baby girl and I became closer to my lovely 4 years old charming granddaughter. Lots of family quality time. A blessing.

I managed to adapt to new methodologies of work and life. I did not let the self isolation depress me. A blessing.

I kept in touch with my friends and found ways and means to interact virtually. A blessing.

So strangely enough, alone in my apartment, when I got the glimpse of fireworks in the sky, I felt grateful for all the blessings of 2020.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Waiting for Christmas

 A strange Christmas, a strange year. 

Lockdowns, facemasks, tiers, bubbles, households meeting rules, travel and quarantines, predictions of doom from increase of infections after Christmas .... a never ending saga brought in by Covid-19. New rules, new concepts, new terminology.

In short new way of life for almost a year. We adapt and find new ways. 

We use facemasks as fashion statements, we replace business travel with online meetings, events, workshops. We moved our office home and with it our daily life is upside down with kids schooling online, buying online, a virtual world with restricted human touch. Kisses not allowed, hugs restricted, the other is a danger to keep meters away from.

Yes we adapted, but it affected our mental health, and we do not know how it will affect our children. They do not understand.

My granddaughter of 4 years old, when I asked her 'what do you want for Christmas', ''a grandma'' she answered. That did it, I decided to brave the travel restrictions, the quarantine, the social mixing rules. But then, it is not as if I am enjoying it fully, it is marred by anxiety. I am trying my best not to let affect me. But at a deep internal level it does.

There is lots to learn from this year. I will not talk about socio economic consequences and lessons that countries and government and specially as to how to allocate the budget, if health and medical research need to be upped, maybe reducing military spending? 

In my modest experience, I discovered that we can do a lot online. Yet it could not replace the human contact that onsite workshops generate. Human interaction is a learning tool in itself. Then, I have no idea why online meetings and trainings are tiring. After one hour I feel exhausted while I can give a training for a full day and feel less tired.

On another level, home office is conductive to increase in productivity. Less loss of time commuting and better distribution of time. Yet it requires self discipline which is not a fait accompli for all.

The most important lesson is that meeting friends, hugging loved ones, kissing people when meeting, handshakes, all of these small gestures are essential to our emotional health and should be cherished.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Lebanese diaspora: My people are dead

I could not think of how to express a uniting feeling I experienced, saw, read, and heard from Lebanese living abroad, even from those who grew up in countries of adoption.

This text written in 1916 by Kahlil Gebran, the author of ''The Prophet'' best express the pain.

' ' My people are dead ' - Kahlil Gebran (1916)

Mine die, and I, still living, in my solitude, I mourn them my people died and I am here, in this distant country, wandering among a joyful people who sleep on fluffy beds. My people died of a painful death and I am here who lives in abundance and in peace I do not live with my persecuted people, who walk in the procession of death towards martyrdom.

I'm here, on the other side of the ocean that lives in the shadow of peace and in the light of peace. I'm so far from the miserable arena and affliction that I can't even be proud of my tears.

The death of my people is a silent accusation; it is a crime fomented by the heads of invisible snakes, it is a tragedy without text.

My people died while their hands stretched east and west, while their empty orbits looked at the darkness of the firmament.

He died in silence because humanity remained deaf to his calls. He died because he didn't sympathize with his enemies, he died because he placed his trust in all humanity, because he was the stomped flowers and not the foot that crushes. He died because he was a builder of peace, because the monsters of hell stood up, destroyed everything, because vipers and children of vipers spit poison in space where the holy cedars, roses and the jasmines exhale their perfumes.

Artist - Allan Debs 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Lebanese youth says: I am at the stage of grief where it is just anger and fury

Malek is a young man who grew up in Lebanon during civil war years. He survived and thrived with many dreams. He succeeded carrier wise, but as many he ended up working outside Lebanon.

His favorite quotes:

"Some people see things the way they are and say, 'why?... I see things that never were and say, 'why not?' ". George Bernard Shaw

"Freedom is not worth having if it doesn't include the freedom to make mistakes". Mahatma Gandhi

"I was taught honesty from a liar" Gebran Khalil Gebran

He posted a text I found representative of a whole Lebanese generation.

I am sharing it with you, he speaks for many.

Today I am at the stage of grief where it is just anger and fury.

This catastrophe did not just show the profound depth of the ruling parties' level of incompetence, but their blatant disregard for human life at an unimaginable level.

Not only have they not opened up their wallets and given back a part of the money they very openly stole and plundered, but they have barely done anything in the last 48 hours to quell the fear and pain of a suffering population.

Speeches are half-assed essays that read like emails full of blame dodging, empty promises, and rinse and repeat topics. No accountability whatsoever on those clearly responsible for the catastrophe, regardless of whatever secret motive might be looming in the background, and general disregard to any sense of decency and respect to a nation in utter disarray.

Some politicians openly joke, these other ones smile, these ones hark back to the days of the civil war, and others ask secterian questions as to why certain areas were hit harder than others. All while people still fail to properly understand what has happened and the magnitude at which it has happened both in and out of Lebanon.

Even worse is that they are fully aware that the people absolutely hate and loathe them, which in part has lead to their decreased or isolated public appearances. Convoys blocking off access to the public, goons unleashed to retaliate on the rightfully expressed anger of the nation, and mindless drones that obey every command for reasons completely unknown.

This is without mentioning the fact that foreign leaders openly express their complete lack of trust in these same politicians, to their bloody faces, only to have politicians nod and smile.

I look around and see endless videos of civilians doing their best to clean up and help each other understand and cope with what has happened. Civilians banding together with civil defense sweeping glass, debris, and going through wreckage that carries utterly devastating realizations of broken realities.

All while the army chills by the side of the roads or on their tanks, and the internal security forces smoke their cigarettes and point to where civilians have missed a spot.

And every day you talk to someone new or check up on a friend or relative and the same statement constantly repeats itself. 

I am lucky to be alive.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Austria is a good model in the fight against Covid-19- No more!

12 Nov 2020
From bad to worse!
Austria is doing even worse than England in the spread of the virus despite a second 'light lockdown''. A perfect example of how a country that was doing well is now performing so bad!
Sharp Criticism
The guidelines have caused an uproar among teachers and directors, who have been told that lessons should continue normally until health authorities take further steps. The Federation of Austrian School Directors has immediately filed a formal complaint and teachers – who were just informed today – are also criticizing the new guidelines sharply.
Since Austria entered its second “softer” lockdown on November 3, the country has debated whether the measures were strict enough to flatten the curve. One particular bone of contention has been schools and kindergartens, which have stayed open for children up to 14 years old. Austria’s Education Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) points to the essential function of schools especially for young children and those with learning difficulties, as well as for society, and home schooling deemed hard to impossible for many parents.
But there is also a growing chorus of researchers and international experts who warn that the role of schools in the spread of the virus must not be underestimated.
On Monday, November 9, four Austrian scientists called for an “immediate closure of all schools.” Schools are not the sole cause of the explosion in case numbers, they wrote, but “certainly make a significant contribution;” closing them is “one of the most effective individual measures.” On the current trajectory, say the four scientists, “Austria is hurtling into the disaster of overburdened hospitals, where physicians triage and untreated patients must be left to die.”

26 Oct 2020
Where did it go wrong?
  • The virologist Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl from the Medical University of Vienna has warned that the country is losing control of the chains of infection.
  • Detailed analyses in Vienna have shown that “infections are already being acquired in an unclear manner in public space (…),” was Puchhammer-Stöckl quoted.
  • To the Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung, Puchhammer-Stöckl said “more and more people do not know where they infected themselves.”
  • The practice of contact tracing – long seen as the ideal way to break infection chains early – is under strain under the massive count of new cases in recent weeks.
In short
After the Austrian government took increasingly drastic measures in March to contain the coronavirus, the country successfully flattened the curve in April, and gradually reopened shops, schools and restaurants again in May.

Life in Vienna got back to something like normality with summer arriving in June, while newly rising numbers in July have prompted regional lockdowns, quarantine, travel warnings and targeted measures. In August, the CoV-Ampel was introduced, and measures were gradually tightened.

In September, with cases rising again at a swift pace, stricter measures have been introduced and people were asked to limit private gatherings to 10 people at max.

With numbers high but stable at the moment, October brings new challenges in dealing with the pandemic.

There is a need to look at the data and wonder why the measures are not working. They are widely accepted by people who are complying. Where does the problem lies? Mutations? Schools? or something else we did not think about....

Update 8 September
Smart back to school planning in #Austria. The RO is now 1.02 which is good. And there are no orange of red lights. The EU system of rating which is cumulative cases by 100,000 inhabitants is flawed. If testing increase then surely infection numbers increase!

Update September 7, 2020:
Seems Austria is taking proper measures to face the new outbreak, results were quick.
  • 290 new corona cases were reported within the last 24 hours, indicating that the number of new infections is declining again. 
  • The crucial reproduction number (R) this Friday fell to 1.02 from 1.14 a week before – that means, one infected person currently infects on average another 1.02 people. Health authorities ascribe falling R to a decrease of new cases from travelers coming back from their holidays in countries with higher infection risk.

Update 1 September
  • Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) gave a press conference today updating the population on the coronavirus situation.
  • “It’s possible that there will be a vaccine already in January,” Anschober said. In the best case, he expects 600,000 doses for 300,000 people around year’s end.
  • With the first vaccine batch, professionals in the health care sector and at care centers should be vaccinated. Later in the year, everybody who wants to be vaccinated should get the option.
  • The minister hopes that up to five vaccinations from different producers will be available throughout the next year.
  • Hygiene measures, wearing masks, good ventilation (open windows) for rooms and more vaccinations for the seasonal flu will continue to be important pillars for containing the virus over the coming months, Anschober underlined.
  • Concerning current coronavirus numbers – the number of active cases in Austria rose from 1,300 in July to 3,300 at the moment – Anschober said: “This number is too high too soon. The virus was never gone, but is more visible again.” However, as long as the clusters can be tracked and traced, this would still be manageable, the minister emphasized.
  • The coronavirus “traffic light system” (Corona-Ampel) that has been prepared and tested by the government over the last couple of months will also be activated this week.
  • Different colors for regions and districts will activate new regional measures.

Update August 28, 2020:
Despite the slight rise in infection rates Austria seems to be fearing well.

Medicine has got better at treating patients with COVID-19 at different stages of the disease, leading to much lower rates of serious and fatal cases.
As a result, hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in Austria have remained relatively low and stable during the last months.

In September, the family package of the government will pay out €360 for every child living in Austria.
Moreover, the first income tax bracket will be lowered from 25% to 20% retroactively for this entire year, a measure that is meant to put more money into the pockets of employees.
The whole package will cost €2.7 billion and is a part of a whole array of stimulus measures aimed to help the economy recover from its corona-induced break.
Economic forecasts have also been adjusted recently.
For Austria, the WIFO now expects a slump of -6.8% – harsh, but better than the forecasts of June (-7%) and April (-7.5%).
For the European Union as a whole, the OECD is now expecting a drop of -9.1%.
In the meantime, Austrian industry has already recovered to the levels seen in 2015, faster than industry in the eurozone and in neighboring Germany.

The Austrian tourism industry reported -44.6% fewer overnight stays in the months May to July 2020, compared to last year. Nevertheless, the rebound after the reopening was stronger than expected. In July 2020, there were “only” -17.2% less overnight stays than last year, with domestic tourism up (+15.2%) and tourist stays from abroad down (-28.7%).
This compares well with France (-55.7%) and Italy.

Update August 21, 2020:

Something went wrong in fully opening the country to tourism and public events. 
The number of new coronavirus cases detected in the last 14 days compared to the two weeks before increased by 46% in the United Kingdom and by 69% in Austria.
While Austria has successfully flattened the curve early on, thus containing the virus and keeping the number of deaths from COVID-19 relatively low (729 at present), the UK took longer – leading to one of the most severe outbreaks in Europe (with 41,397 fatalities at present) – and then shut down harder.
As a consequence, the easing measures came earlier and were more sweeping in Austria – making higher numbers of reinfections down the road relatively more likely – while large swathes of UK public life are still on standby.
Germany who did well and was moving along the same line in Austria and Germany is still doing well. Need to consider why.

Update 7 August 2020
Reintroducing face masks in Supermarkets and closed areas was a good quick action. It proves effective. Lesson learned.

Update 30 July
On Rathausplatz | Opera and Ballet Are Still Larger Than Life
The city of Vienna is keeping 'culture for all' alive, even during coronavirus times.
Update 23 July
Seems a harsh measure. Yet, it was a careless action that might have resulted in infecting many other people. Face masks protect us all from such actions. We can never be sure that all citizens are responsible. Sad, but true.

  • The first trial in Austria concerning the breach of coronavirus containment measures kicked off today in Carinthia.
  • The defendant is a 49-year-old woman from Klagenfurt who was tested positive for COVID-19 and was thus obliged to self-isolate at home.
  • Nevertheless, she went to the supermarket and the post office without a mask.
  • The woman is charged with having breached the quarantine restrictions deliberately and carelessly (i.e. not wearing a mask), endangered others to catch a dangerous disease.
  • The maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.
  • The trial is the first of its kind in Austria; a future ruling is already considered to become a landmark in how to adjudicate breaches of coronavirus measures in the country.

Some time ago I wrote a blog wondering if Austria was winning the war against Covid-19.

Drastic and coordinated measures were taken in March to contain the corona virus from lock down to preparedness in the health system. Austrians positively accepted the measures abiding by social distancing and other recommendations. The government implemented an effective testing and tracking policy.

In April the country successfully flattened the curve and achieved one of the lowest death rate in Europe.

The government gradually reopened shops, schools and restaurants again in May. By June life was almost normal.

First of June face masks were no more mandatory in all close places. 
If one looks at the data, it is very clear that it was not a wise decision.

Almost 800,000 tests have been carried out in Austria. That means almost every tenth citizen of Austria has been tested since the beginning of the pandemic.
With cases rising again in Austria; society is trying to find a new balance between containing the virus and living daily life through focused testing, tracking and tracing.

July 21, 2020:

  • Starting this Friday, July 24, wearing a mask will again be mandatory in supermarkets as well as in banks and post offices
  • Many new cases had their origins abroad, particularly in the Balkans, which is why Austria will strengthen border control measures and control quarantine measures for travelers more stringently.
  • Several new clusters in recent weeks were identified within church congregations, which is why masses and other services will also be reduced in frequency going forward.
  • The government publish “corona traffic light system” for Austrian regions in August. 
  • Scientists at the Technical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna are working on an ambitious corona virus test program in the sewage plants of 20 Austrian cities.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Aya Sohia return to a mosque: an attack on modern Turkey?

Some time ago I wrote blog celebrating Turkey's secularism. I was hopeful.
Today, with the decision to strip Hagia Sophia, also known as Aya Sofia from museum status, paving its return to a mosque, I am sad.

The Hagia Sophia that stands today was originally built as the cathedral for the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in the sixth century, and became a mosque in 1453 with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. It remained a Muslim house of worship until the early 20th century, when the Turkish government secularized the Hagia Sofia and turned it into a museum in 1934. More than 50 years later, UNESCO included Hagia Sophia as part of its Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site.

For me Aya Sofia is not Christian or Muslim or Roman. It is a cultural historical heritage. So sad to see Erdogan undermining the secular soul of Turkey. So sad to see that one person was able to undermine secularism and democracy in a beautiful and great country. I still have hope that the people of Turkey will take a stand.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Turkish perception of isolation

Having visited Turkey, quite often during the last few years, I got to love the country and the people.
Istanbul is a city where many cultures and civilizations have met, warred, and blended. Wherever you walk you can see it in the monuments and architecture, and whatever you eat you can taste the rich diversity. The melting pot shaped a modern Turkish citizen that is proud, friendly, hardworking, and generous.

What I wrote sounds like a tourist promotion brochure, yet I deeply felt it throughout my stays in Turkey. 

What affected me deeply is a scene I saw in a popular part of Istanbul. 

The area is known for its high concentration of religious people. Sitting in a side cafe, I was facing a small very old mosque built in the old tradition of sand stones. Just in front of the Mosque entrance is a tramway station. I noticed, standing at the station a nice young couple dressed and behaving as any couple in love would in Vienna, Paris, or any other European city. It was Friday prayer time. The next scene was of men getting out of the Mosque passing near the couple that were now kissing. The body language and the eye expression of all the actors indicated without doubt that there is no tension or strain in the acceptance of the men going out of the mosque to the presence of a couple kissing close by the door of the Mosque. For all the actors in the scene was a regular everyday occurrence. 

You might wonder why this scene impressed me. In Egypt, or Pakistan, or Amman, or even in Lebanon, such a scene is not an everyday occurrence. The men getting out of the Mosque would have been offended and might have even badmouth the couple. The couple would have been conscious of being in front of a Mosque and would have been uncomfortable to touch each other or even, in some countries stand in front of a Mosque. In Gulf countries, it is unfathomable.

It is so sad that today Turkish people feel under attack. The citizens of Turkey are proud to be Muslims and proud to live in a secular democratic country. They do not understand why Europe is treating them badly. They were united, opposition and Erdogan party against the military coup. The EU did not show solidarity. Turkey is often accused of supporting terrorism, yet no Turkish citizen engaged in Islamic terrorism or extremism. Europe is obsessed by the Kurdish issue without consideration that the separatist Kurdish movement is adopting terrorist tactics. What would Spain say if Turkey supported the Basque cause? 

Whether the above is justified or not, these are the thoughts you get when you talk to many Turkish citizens. Whether they support Erdogan or not, they feel under attack.

It is time for the European Union to realize that they are antagonizing the population of Turkey. 
It is time to make the necessary overtures to the people of Turkey by understanding their fears.
The Turkish model is the best path to fighting Islamic extremism.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Syrian saga: a post from 2012, neocolonialism?

I came today a post published by a friend in 2012.
It made me think about how much humanity can turn an eye on state violence and the hurt that ensues.
Lives destroyed, families separated, future hope lost, ambition killed...
How can we turn a bling eye. I do not understand

June 30, 2012
Anan, the Tsar of neo-colonialism!
A nightmarish vision struck me from a place near the serene lac of Geneva. I almost retched from the rotten smell of lies, dealing wheeling, and compromise. 
Just imagine the picture of an army indiscriminately shelling its people side to side with Anan wearing his suit and tie, speaking like a Lord to say just nothing, blaming the victim. Then move to the picture of Clinton, Lavrov, and all the other British, Turkish, and Arab gnomes smiling and shaking hands side to side with the picture of children slaughtered by their army. 
These people were discussing the fate of a whole population, disregarding the hopes of a people without having the decency to invite the Syrian people to the discussion. I wonder why. Are they subhuman, incapable of deciding their fates? This is what was said of the people of India, the Middle East, China, Japan, and many other lands during the colonial era. Today Kofi Anan is saying that the Syrian people are a minor population. He did not have the decency to state the facts, to say that Assad refused to apply his plan and he goes around like a pontiff trying to save the barbarians from themselves.
Obama cannot hear the cries for freedom in Syria, he has more pressing and important issues to address, being elected one of them. The Russians envy Assad ability of bomb dissension, Putin would love to be able to do it openly at home. And the others are just puny and do not count. 
This is the face of neo colonialism. What they forgot is the American War of Independence and the Bolshevik revolution. What they forget is that a people in a small country called Syria did not relent to dance and chant for freedom in the street, under the fire, bombing, and shelling of the Assad regime. These people said “death is better than living without hope”. Anan, Clinton, and Lavrov might smile and make deals, at the end, the Syrian people will surprise you and break the chains of dictatorship and neo colonialism.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Lebanon yesterday and today in pictures






Updated 10 August 2020

Our salvation is our people and their resilience